Reviews

Reprisal Universe

Reprisal Universe is a strategy game in which you only ever have to use one strategy.


Reprisal Universe

Publisher: electrolyte
Price: $9.99
Players: 1
Developer: electrolyte
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Mac
Release Date: 2014-09-15
URL

Reprisal Universe has a great start. Its Populous-with-modern-pixel-art style is instantly attractive, and the overarching narrative is intriguing. It has a simple and slick interface, the music and sound are wonderful, and the first few levels suggest a grandiose game is to come. Reprisal Universe only half delivers on that grandiosity. The scope of the game does grow and is impressive, but the mechanics don't grow with that scope. This is a strategy game where you only ever have to use one strategy, and as such, it quickly grows repetitive.

You are Thallos, a god who was removed from power by his sister and brothers and who now has to work his way back into power. You do this by "reprising" other tribes in the world, thus growing your influence until you can travel to other worlds.

It's a grand idea, but the execution is less grand. There's no single, large, world. Instead the game is split into levels, each a different map (again, like Populous). Sometimes that map is a mountain region, sometimes a snowy range, sometimes a desert, or sometimes an island chain. Each map has a couple other enemy tribes inhabiting it for you to reprise, i.e. take over.

This small scope, while a little disappointing at first considering the premise, is not a bad thing. It allows for a nice ramping of difficulty as the game takes its time explaining the controls and interface. It's nice to play a civilization building game that doesn't just dump me into the deep end.

You create settlements that automatically spawn workers after a set amount of time, and you can tell those workers to either make more settlements or to go pick a fight with the enemy tribes. Your settlements begin as little huts, but you can raise and lower the ground in order to make room for them to grow (again... like Populous). The larger the settlement, the more workers have to attack it in order to take it over. The one limitation is that you can only modify the land around your own settlements, so if the enemy starts entering your domain, they can halt or even reverse your constructions plans.

In addition, you have multiple destructive powers. This is where Reprisal Universe becomes brutal. The only real strategy is a literal scorched earth policy. You can summon a lighting storm to burn the land, destroying settlements and making it uninhabitable. Fire does the same, or a whirlpool can destroy all land near water. This destruction can be reversed with more terraforming, turning the scorched earth into a minor setback. You race to build and destroy faster than your enemy can build and destroy, and the winner is whoever takes over every last settlement on the map.

This race makes for some fun and intense games as you try to balance construction with destruction, but after a few levels, you’ll realize that there’s only one strategy for success: overwhelm the enemy. The intense games become boring as you repeat yourself over and over and over again. Every level is the same; play one and you’ve played them all.

However, the worst part of Reprisal Universe is the way that it hides information from the player due to the bizarrely small screen. Whether it’s because of technical limitations or a blind adherence to the Populous aesthetic, Reprisal Universe has a maddeningly small screen. The game is only available on the PC (and Macs), but it feels like it was designed for mobile devices because it artificially limits your view of the world.

For example, on a 60x60 grid map (or bigger) you can only ever see a 10x10 plot of land at once. Scrolling can only be done using the WASD or arrow keys, not the mouse, which is inefficient at best, and in a fast-paced game with so much going on at once, efficiency is integral to success. It often feels like I make mistakes simply because I can’t see things as they happen, so I’m not able to react accordingly. The game becomes fairly hard, not because of any interesting or challenging design tricks, but because it forcibly handicaps the player. There is simply no good design reason for this limitation, and it ruins the game because as maps get larger and more complicated, more essential information is hidden from you. What starts as a minor annoyance becomes increasingly damning.

It also doesn’t help that the pixel art and low angle of the isometric view make it hard to see behind buildings and to see how the land is slanted. You need to make the land level in order for your settlements to expand, but often times you’ll be up against some edge and you won’t know whether you should lift it or lower it. I’ve lost many a settlement by accidentally raising or lowering land too much, creating either a valley or a mountain that destroyed the settlement I was trying to grow.

After a few levels the “universe” part of Reprisal Universe opens up, and the scope it presents is genuinely awesome. Space exploration is determined by your influence on a planet, which is represented by a circle that expands out from any planet you control. Play enough levels on a world, reprise more tribes, and your influence expands. If that influence encompasses another planet, then you can now travel there and continue the process.

It’s a neat idea, but like everything else, it’s underwhelming in practice. The worlds all look the same, you’re always in one of the same four environments, and your tactics for success are always the same. Reprisal Universe starts with a lot of promise, but that promise quickly turns into annoyance, which then turns into frustration, which then makes you wonder why on earth the game is designed the way it is. Reprisal Universe could have been great, but it only has itself to blame for its failures.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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